U.S. talking to Israel and others about Syria's chemical weapons
Syrian General Fahd al-Freij (R) meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus following his swearing in ceremony as the new defence minister. Assad appointed Freij as the country's new defence minister on July 18, 2012 after a suicide bombing killed three top regime officials including defence minister General Daoud Rajha.
July 19th, 2012
05:24 PM ET

U.S. talking to Israel and others about Syria's chemical weapons

By Barbara Starr

Pentagon officials are talking with their Israeli counterparts to get a sense of what Israel's potential intentions are regarding Syria's chemical weapons, and with others in the Middle East regarding scenarios that could involve those weapons.

U.S. officials worry Israel could feel compelled to attack and destroy Syria's chemical weapons if Israel feels directly threatened as the violence in Syria grows and the Assad regime's grip on power weakens, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is scheduled to visit Israel in the coming days and the discussions are expected to continue there, according to the senior official.

The official would speak only on background because the source was discussing sensitive information.

With the Syrian regime having moved chemical weapons at least once in recent days, and no clear sense of Syrian intentions, the U.S. military also has accelerated a series of classified discussions with Jordan, Turkey, the United Kingdom and France.

These talks involve not just the Syrian unrest, but also the potential human and political disaster if al-Assad were to use chemical weapons or the stockpiles were to fall into terrorist or opposition hands because the regime cannot keep them secure, CNN has learned.

Senior U.S. military officials have also directly spoken to their Russian counterparts in recent days about Moscow's need to convince al-Assad to keep the weapons locked up.

"We can't rule out the possibility" that Syria could resort to using chemical weapons, George Little, Pentagon press secretary, said Thursday. The United States has been making the case that Syria would lose its last supporters in Russia and China if such a thing were to happen.

But if the weapon stockpiles had to be secured by outside forces, it would be a very tough military problem, according to several U.S. military officials CNN has contacted.

The challenge breaks down into several parts:

– Intelligence: The United States would need to know the GPS coordinates of all the sites, what materials are there and all the security measures in place. There would need to be a continuous flow of updated intelligence, but it might be limited to satellite imagery, intercepted communications or spies on the ground because the United States is not operating inside Syria.

The sites are widely dispersed across the country and a decision would have to made about whether it's possible to secure them all simultaneously.

– Getting to the sites: If the regime is still in place or even if there is mass confusion on the ground, getting troops to the sites to secure them would be a dangerous military undertaking. An assault by ground forces could lead to extended combat, and an air assault by paratroopers would be extremely risky as well.

The United States would have to first destroy or find a way to control Syria's extensive air defense system of radars and missiles, which are considered highly capable of shooting down aircraft. If the chemical weapons were moving, or ready to be used, all of this would have to be accomplished within a matter of hours.

The United States has an agreement to help Jordanian commandos get to the sites in Syria if ordered, but no one can say precisely how they would get into Syria.

– Who do you send to protect: If there is a need to send U.S. special forces and other conventionally equipped American troops to help secure the sites, the U.S. military would have to quickly find hundreds if not thousands of potential personnel, and ensure they have advanced chemical weapons training in handling and protecting materials. They would also have to provide security for specialized chemical weapons disposal teams that would likely be sent in.

In addition, the U.S. military strongly would want to make this a coalition operation and not undertake it on their own.

– Who do you send to destroy: Sending in aircraft to bomb the weapons sites would require first ensuring the United States controlled the sky over Syria, and that could mean an extended bombing campaign to destroy the air defenses.

But in order to full destroy the weapon sites, or any weapons on the move, the United States would have to be able to virtually incinerate the material instantly because of concerns over vapor or particles dispersing that could hurt civilian populations. That again requires almost perfect intelligence about dozens of sites in order to calculate what bombs should be used, depending on whether the material is above ground or bunkered below ground.

Numerous U.S. officials say they are sending the message to Syria that it's still the regime's responsibility to safeguard the weapons right now, but if the regime suddenly collapses, the situation could become dire very quickly, officials acknowledge.

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Filed under: Assad • Israel • Syria
soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Deston

    It's amazing that Israel has stood up to this for 30 years. It's a tiny conruty, but it has beaten all the Arab nations around it.If the Israelis guaranteed that the peaceful Palestinians would be naturalized, then I agree that Israel should push to the Jordan. There are a fair amount of Palestinian Christians in that area (though none of them are terrorists). But if Israel could push all the Muslims and Hamas-supporters into Jordan, then the problem would be solved.The way Palestine works now is ineffecient at best. Palestine is an infant conruty with a small land area that is divided into two segments seperated by miles of Israeli land, filled to the brim with people, among whom are some of the worst terrorists in the world. The UN is just way out there on the idea that a situation like that is going to turn out well.

    September 13, 2012 at 1:27 am | Reply
  2. Stephen Real

    I'd be horse whipping our CIA guys to find these cashes of chemical and biological weapons dumps. This could be a problem. It ain't one yet but it is rapidily heating up in chatter over the last few days.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:13 am | Reply
    • worldlypatriotusaveteran

      The U.S. Intelligence Community is proficient, but locating, with precision, chemical-weapons caches that are dispersed and moving, and during a civil war, to boot, is nearly impossible.

      I predict a coalition, including Israel, UK, and the USA, sharing their intelligence data and resources, could locate 60%, but that's not adequate!

      July 30, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Reply
  3. sam

    We loooove israel! cuz israel frikken rocks guys.!

    July 23, 2012 at 1:05 am | Reply
  4. Matt

    The facts are he is a bad leader, all he had to do was release and pardon the two children and the uprising would not have occurred and his limited concession would have been accepted. But he pays no attention to what goes on in the country and delegates the running of the regime so he can live like a rich playboy. The regime murdered and tortured the kids for graffiti then kept shooting civilians. The Saudi King who knows what is going on in his country issues pardons all the time and intervenes in issues, that is the difference Assad is a bad leader. If he has been a wise leader none of this would have happened, all he had to was intervene pardon the kids send them back to their families and castigate the security officers.

    July 21, 2012 at 4:21 am | Reply
  5. outspoken

    CNN is already a Tabloid paper with no ethics or journalistic value.

    July 20, 2012 at 11:59 am | Reply
  6. I want to see Robme's Tax Returns

    He's hiding something. You KNOW he is.

    July 20, 2012 at 10:14 am | Reply
  7. KEVIN

    Only the Syrian military would be able to secure the weapons and enact a reasonable transition of power when Assad steps down. (we need to be spending our time kissing their a**)

    July 20, 2012 at 2:36 am | Reply
  8. Cathy

    Doesn't look good but very predicted in the Bible.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Reply
    • KEVIN

      Cathy, I wrote the Bible and I don't remember mentioning anything about Syria (but with my old age, my memory is getting kinda off) lol (maybe)

      July 20, 2012 at 3:08 am | Reply
  9. Dan

    To the idiot up there who's worried about America fighting Israel's war. Evidently, you haven't figured out that the Israeli's ability to defend itself is what keeps Obama awake ay night.

    July 19, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Reply
    • Jack

      We have contributed over a trillion dollars to Israel. They receive three billion YEARLY for the military. We have not only fought all of Israel's wars, we created the country.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel%E2%80%93United_States_relations#United_States_aid

      July 23, 2012 at 12:21 am | Reply
      • Thomas

        Jack, please elaborate on exactly which Israeli wars the U.S. fought and when.

        July 23, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  10. Cyrus

    SAY NO TO ISRAELI AGGRESSION IN THE MIDDLE EAST!!

    Email your state representative, and tell them not to continue unconditional support of israeli apartheid policies.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Reply
    • KEVIN

      Cyrus, it is kinda over-board at times and often causes more problems with Israel's foriegn policy practices then the US supporters of Israel realize. Israel's foriegn policy practices are antagonistic and self-destructive and we do need to put a leash on them and keep them in check.

      July 20, 2012 at 3:18 am | Reply
      • Thinker23

        Kevin... Can you elaborate on this a bit? Which "Israel's foreign policy practices" you disagree with and which BETTER alternatives you're willing to offer?

        July 20, 2012 at 6:43 am |
    • Richard S

      um...the article's about the Syrian lunatic government having chemical weapons and possibly using them on its own people. So where's this Israeli aggression you're referring to?
      Oh, that's right. Israel aggressively making sure that Syria's resistance (which is partially made up of lunatics from Al Quada and the Muslim Brotherhood) doesn't get its hands on chemical weapons. in other words: Israel doing the Middle East a favour and reducing chemical weapons stockpiles from a volatile government in waiting.

      July 20, 2012 at 9:54 am | Reply
      • db49

        Well said.

        July 23, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  11. Tiffany Madison

    "The United States..." "The United States"... why are we still fighting Israel's wars? She has her own sons and weapons.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply
    • Jim

      "Still"? Pick up a history book you retard. What wars were fought for Israel? The wars we've fought in the mid east have been for the towel heads running Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

      Really – how absolutely stupid must you be. Can you even name one example of America fighting wars for Israel???

      Seriously... do you have the capacity to read a newspaper or a history book? Have you ever attended a world history class? My god you are moron.

      July 19, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Reply
      • Thinker23

        WHY would they pick a newspaper or read a book? WHY would they even THINK? It's easier to blame Israel and the Jews for all the evils on the planet.

        July 20, 2012 at 5:31 am |
      • Daniele

        McCain who? Oh, that guy that lost the last election. He's a war hero or sontehimg, isn't he?{tongue in cheek, of course}Point is that our respected war hero has become quite irrelevant since losing the election. Not sure he'll ever accept that. If I were him, I probably wouldn't accept it either.

        September 13, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • Mark

      Tiffany, you have it backward. Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 so that Saddam did not get the WMDs he would have had, that we claimed he never had because Israel made sure he never had them. Israel-more recently-bombed a secret nuclear facility in Syria that was on the way to being completed and operational. Israel helps do U.S.'s and the world's dirty work. It's high time that Israel stop fighting America's wars and let the U.S. carry its own weight.

      July 23, 2012 at 12:05 am | Reply
    • Alwrda

      I admire the vbllaaue information you offer in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and have my children check up here often. I am quite sure they will learn lots of new stuff here than anybody else!

      September 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Reply
  12. Big Daddy

    What's that smell on this blog? Does anyone else notice the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this article?

    July 19, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Reply

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